Water efficient gardening
Clean water is essential to life on earth, yet it is a scarce resource comprising only 3 per cent of the world's water. Most fresh water is stored in ice caps and below the surface of the earth. Despite the scarcity, global consumption of water has been increasing each decade. Australians use about 30 per cent of their household water consumption on their gardens.
Water shortages will become more common and we have to change our behaviour to reflect this reality.
By adopting water-efficient garden practices we can ensure that our gardens continue to thrive and continue to provide their many benefits - creating habitat for wildlife, enhancing air quality and storing carbon, which helps to reduce the greenhouse effect.
How to do it now!
Try the following actions to make your garden more water efficient:
Add compost and manures to your soil. These provide food for plants and enrich the water retention capacity of your soil, which means there's more water available for your plants. See our action Recycle organic waste for a full guide to composting and worm farming.
Ensure that your soil is always covered by mulch or plants. Bare and exposed soil will dry out very quickly and suck moisture from nearby plants. Mulching your soil will prevent it drying out, put nutrients into the soil and discourage weeds, which compete with your plants for vital water. See our action Mulch your patch for a full guide to mulching.
Plant drought tolerant or dry land plants. There is a huge selection of differently coloured, formed and textured xeriscape plants (tough plants that don't require irrigation), to fit any garden design. Take a look at some of the following gardening sites for a list of drought-tolerant plants:
Australian National Botanic Gardens - Growing Australian Plants
- Water Conservation - Royal Botanic Gardens
- Sydney Water - Plant Selector
- Local indigenous plant nurseries - native plants are adapted to an unirrigated existence in the local area; they also conserve local diversity and create habitats for wildlife. The Australian Native Plant Society has a list of indigenous nurseries to source local drought-tolerant plants.
- Also check with your council whether they have guides to local indigenous plants, which are generally more water efficient than non-natives.
Replace your lawn. Plant local indigenous grasses (weeping grass or wallaby grass) or some of the warm-season grasses like buffalo, couch or kikuyu, which all require about 30 per cent less water than cool-season grasses. First check to see if these grasses are classified as weeds in your area.
- You don't need to water your lawn. Grass is surprisingly resilient and doesn’t take long to become green after a good rain.
- You could replace your lawn altogether with another permeable surface, such as gravel. Using concrete and paving stones will increase run-off and is best avoided.
Go mostly organic in your lawn and garden. Using organic gardening products and techniques is a great way to reduce your impact on the environment. You don’t have to go 100 per cent organic either. Try out a few organic pesticides or fertilisers and see what works for you. By going mostly organic in your garden you’ll help to stimulate beneficial soil organisms, reduce harmful wastewater run-off, and create a healthier place for your pets and children to play.
Use a reel or electric lawn mower. If you have a small yard, consider using a manual push reel mower.
Today’s reel mowers are a far cry from the one your grandfather used. Reel mowers are light, quiet, and virtually maintenance-free. They are environmentally friendly, and also better for the grass. Rotary mowers tear the grass - reel mowers cut grass like scissors, leaving a fine spray of clippings as mulch for your yard. They do take some effort, but they aren’t any harder to push than an 30kg petrol mower that isn’t self-propelled. Reel mowers aren’t necessarily practical for really big lawns, so think about switching that petrol mower to a cleaner, electric mower.
Group plants according to their water needs. This will ensure that you're not unnecessarily watering some plants just because of their proximity to a heavy drinker. Not all plants need watering, and many only need a sprinkle now and then.
Get the right irrigation system. Forget wasteful sprinkler systems, which can lose up to 45 per cent of water to evaporation. Instead use water-efficient irrigation systems like leaky hoses and dripper systems. These provide water directly to the base of the plant, close to where it is taken up. They also provide smaller amounts of water, reducing the risk of run-off and water wastage. Make sure you comply with current water restrictions, which include rules about how you water as well as when you water.
- Remember to adjust your automatic irrigation system seasonally, and install a rain sensor to avoid automatically watering in wet weather.
Water in the cool of the day. Watering either in the early morning or evening is best as it avoids water loss due to evaporation from the sun and transpiration by plants.
Longer deep soaks are better than frequent watering. Deep soaks encourage roots to move deeply into the soil. Of course, how long you need to soak depends on the quality of your soil, the presence of organic matter, evaporation rates, rainfall and the thirstiness of your plants.
Know your garden and care for it. By checking for pests and diseases on a regular basis you get to know your garden better, understand the watering needs of your plants and can identify stressed plants.
Capturing rainfall. That's the brilliant thing about the water cycle; clean fresh water keeps falling from the sky. Unfortunately, it is occurring less frequently, and that's why we need to capture it. See our action Harvest and use your rainwater for a full guide to installing and collecting rainwater from your garden.
Use council and state government rebates on water saving gear. Don't forget to take advantage of rebates offered by many of the state governments. You can get money back on water-wise purchases including mulches, efficient irrigation and hoses.
- Check our rebates and assistance page for more details.
- Office of Environment and Heritage - Sustainable Gardening. Some easy ways to make your garden more environmentally friendly and sustainable.
- National - Smart Watermark - This site lists the state and/or local government rebate programs available in your area for the installation of certain water-saving fixtures and water tanks.
Why is this action important?
Fresh water is the lifeblood of nature. Without it, we would not have clean air, food, drink and many aesthetic and recreational benefits. Therefore, we need to ensure we use water in a sustainable way and share it with all life on the planet. The consequences of doing otherwise can be seen in the spreading deserts across the world and the resulting drought and famine that can follow.